It is Harder to Learn How to See

 In Photography

There are good art and there are bad art. It doesn’t really matter much to the masses but the thing is, you must first like the art that you create yourself in order for others to like them. If you don’t even love what you create in the first place, most probably nobody will care; even if nobody cares about it but you, isn’t that rewarding enough? Unless you are talking about bringing your works to the commercial level, then it becomes everything about what your clients and bosses want.

“Photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place. It has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with how you see them.”

Elliot Erwitt

Having worked commercially as an artist for years, I realized how much it killed my creativity as an individual artist. Sometimes in a job, you ended up in places that you didn’t even sign up for. It is such an irony that one is hired because of his individual skills and unique talents and ended up being expected to do the same as everyone else. Having been educated in the west and living in the east created a certain kind of divergence: the west believes in specialization, it is like attaining a PhD where the higher you go, the more specialized and narrow your focus becomes. It is believed that this will create your unique selling proposition since nobody else can do the stuff you do; you were focused on it like a laser beam for years and emerged out of that as a super expert of that particular topic after all. The east however rewards the jack of all trades. They want their money worth and you will be hired if you alone can do a ten man job. That is my experience that I am sharing and it might not apply to everyone. Either ways, it kills creativity because we are putting a price on something intangible.

After spending some time away from the commercial world to rediscover myself, I realized how much I have been missing. The specialization route makes you miss out on so many things beyond the imaginary line; the jack of all trades route pulls you in so many directions that you lose yourself in the things that you did not want to do in the first place. Either ways you are not in a good position to fuel creativity and self-expression.

When you are submerged in all those wonders, everything you see takes on a different quality; things becomes interesting when you are interested.

Some people said that photography is a solitary venture; I enjoy shooting alone because that is when I can hear my soul’s voice. When you are not distracted and venture out at your own pace to explore the possibilities of an adventure—wonder arises. When you are submerged in all those wonders, everything you see takes on a different quality; things becomes interesting when you are interested. A good artist is one that is able to translate this wonder that he or she feels through his technical and artistic mastery to the viewer. There is also the sharing of one’s joy in life where the viewer might not be in the position to witness something personally and the artist brings it to them. In the case of my experience, I took a photo of a sheep and I love it so much, it might mean nothing if you are staying in Australia but you can’t find and see one in a thousand miles where I stay. Not everyone has the chance to witness those beautiful mountains and epic landscapes where they are at and so they depend on others for experiencing these beautiful things through their photography.

I spent anywhere from one to four hours on each of my images. It is an overkill on a commercial job because speed and quantity is more important, time is a luxury. I approach my art differently because I am so filled with wonder at the world that I try my best to bring out everything I could in a single image. I explore all the possibilities of how to transfer this wonder to my viewers in a way that is as accurate and as impeccable as I can make it—that is the dedication I put into my creativity.

I have specialized enough on the commercial side that I am taking a different path now. You see, specializing on one thing is not the way to live. It is not realistic as far as I am concerned. You don’t just look at one thing your whole life; it is a big world out there. If all I do is just shoot flowers or I might be the best ant photographer out there, I might just get hired but it is so tedious—imagine all that you can see is that one specific thing in front of you. Life is more than that, that is why I said photography is life, photography is who you are and how you see the world. That is why I take a photo of anything I am interested in during the moment and I never know what will come next. I would love to be known for being a renown landscape photographer or a wildlife photographer, etc, but nothing beats knowing me for who I am; as a fellow human-being who loves the world.

Most people are only interested in the outcome, the finished product. Art is never finished. Sometimes I go back to the same picture and worked it another way because I have grown and every time a new vision arises, I am curious to see how it would look like when handled from a new perspective. That pushes me to explore. Exploring my art is like exploring my life. You grow, you come back to it and you grow some more. It is sad that people are not enjoying the pain in the process; people love shortcuts hence they would like to go from here to there now. It doesn’t work that way, the seed of artistic creativity needs time to grow and nurture—the pain is the experience and it can be an enjoyable process if you are committed to the passion for it.

I did not set out to be a travel photographer. I love traveling. I traveled first then I find a way to document what I see in those travels and then photography found me. This is how it actually happened. I didn’t know I was going to be a photographer then. The process took over me. I think sometimes people see something they like and they try to imitate that. I want to be a fashion photographer, a wedding photographer, a street photographer…it is going to be tough if it is not your own voice. You just couldn’t last through the process because the process is something that most artists don’t share; the sweat and pain behind all those ventures. All that you see is the glorious finished product at the comfort of your chair, imagine what it would take to produce it yourself and you have some glimpse of the truth behind the efforts of all these amazing artists.

If I break down the effort for my images, it would be something like this: first I would have to figure out my budget and cash flow. Traveling is expensive and to start, it would have to come out from my own pockets. I like to share my experiences with family and if possible I would always bring my wife and child along, that effectively doubles the cost of travel. The itinerary has to be planned with a lot of time spent on research for locations and places of interest; mostly I would plan where I would like to be during the magic hour, sunrise and sunset to capture the place in the most beautiful light if I am lucky. Then it comes down to the gear, I prefer to travel light and minimalist but sometimes it is just not possible. Investments in lenses, gear and software comes from my pocket and are in the range of thousands of dollars. The laptop and hard drives for backup would also have to be brought along and this adds extra weight and equipment costs. This is followed by the actual traveling and upon reaching a foreign destination and finding our lodging, it takes about a day or more to get familiarized especially if you don’t understand the language of the place. The bare minimum for the familiarization is so that I can at least find the means of transportation to the locations planned in the itinerary. I would just shoot throughout the travel and sometimes lugging around a heavy tripod for low light situations and better image quality. The longer I stay in a place, the more it will cost. Sometimes my wife would remind me to chill a little and enjoy the travel itself, such a great reminder, but I am always forgetting and back to chasing the light. I don’t care much about shopping, I treat the images I took as souvenirs from the trip. When I come back home to my studio, that is when the real work begins; years of studying, practicing and improvising then using all those experience to work on an image for hours through careful selection and execution. This is followed by crafting and writing the post and sharing it online with you here—for just a few seconds of your attention.

To be honest, if I am not heeding my own voice and flowing with life, I just couldn’t do it. I would rather sip margaritas somewhere in Maldives, carry my child instead of a tripod and holding my wife’s hand rather than the camera.

Although you don’t have to do it like I do, you can just take amazing pictures with where you are at. You can find awesomeness in the ordinary. Sometimes the most amazing image can come from the simplest of things, from being minimalist and keeping an image clutter free. You have to be so awe-struck and interested in the subject that you cannot not make a picture out of it. It is learning how to see by being the authentic person that you are and spending some time on the picture as if it is the last one you will ever take; most of the time it is true because it will be the last time you ever get to visit the place in that lighting condition. It is very hard to take simple images if you cannot see the simplicity in life and to appreciate it; it is also hard to not be a sophisticated person in order to take complex images. The point is your art reflects on your way of life and if you discover yourself, the ordinary will transform into something extraordinary. That is what makes your pictures unique and it will be how you can allow your viewers to see the wonders of your life through your eyes and not just through the lens.

It is harder to know oneself and thus it is harder to learn how to see. If you are one of the lucky few that knows what you want, your photography will tell the story. Artistic and technical mastery is just a matter of time.

This is Part 2 of the Photography is Life series, link to Part 3 is here.

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